Dollar Signs

Wisdom needed regarded recreational marijuana

Why bother with an economic impact study on legalization of marijuana for recreational use in West Virginia? Beyond any reasonable doubt, such action would have an enormous impact on the state’s economy.

As Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, put it this week, recreational marijuana is the “fastest growing industry in this country.” House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, added that legalizing use of the weed by adults would “blow the lid off” West Virginia’s tourism industry.

Indeed it would. No adjacent state permits sale of marijuana for recreational use. The nearest availability is Michigan and Illinois.

Fluharty and Miley are among lawmakers who want state Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch to get an economic study on the issue completed as soon as possible. Fluharty thinks legislators should act on the matter during their current 60-day regular session.

No doubt legalization would be appealing to some lawmakers for a very basic reason: It would offer the potential for big, new source of revenue for state government. Much like legalized gambling, taxing marijuana for non-medicinal use would — at least in the beginning — be a gold mine for government. That would last until another nearby state hopped on the bandwagon, as was the experience with gambling.

But wait. Is there anything other than money involved in whether to legalize marijuana fully?

Of course there is. There a serious questions about the health effects of marijuana. Many law enforcement officials worry about legalization. Is it possible, in a state where so many juveniles find ways to obtain alcohol and tobacco, to keep them from gaining access to marijuana?

Common sense gives us much of the answer regarding how legalization would affect West Virginia’s economy. But knowing more about how marijuana affects humans’ health and how it might complicate an already terrible drug abuse epidemic are important, too — much more critical, in fact.

Legislators should not let dollar signs in their heads interfere with responsible judgments on recreational marijuana.